criminal law

Social Impact Bonds: Reducing Recidivism Through Incentives

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U.S. prisons are costly, overcrowded, and filling up with people who don’t belong there. This article suggests that a simple economic bonus system for reducing recidivism could change that.

Instead of encouraging incarceration, incentivize performance. How might the performance of the department of corrections be measured? By recidivism. A drop in reincarceration would offer evidence that well-performing prisons are not places that breed more criminals but provide rehabilitation instead.

Such performance incentives already exist. They are called “social impact bonds.” The first, issued in 2012 by Goldman Sachs (GS), is underway in New York City for $9.6 million. The money is going toward a four-year program to reduce reincarcation of juveniles at Riker’s Island prison. Goldman Sachs has a vested interest in the success of this program. If participants stop returning to jail at a rate of 10% or greater, Goldman will earn $2.1 million. If the recidivism rate rises above 10% over four years, Goldman stands to lose $2.4 million. In a recent report, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law calls this a “bet on success … instead of using the typical model of privatization, in which private prisons generally bet on failure (i.e. the more prisoners, the better).”

See, What prisons can learn from Goldman Sachs

One-on-One with Delaware’s Two Kings of Criminal Law

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Hurley vs. Maurer

During my clerkship in the New Castle County Court of Common Pleas, there were two criminal defense attorneys who stood apart from the pack. Two attorneys whom law students watched intensely, eager to derive anything they could from an observation. The two attorneys, at one point, represented Tom Capano in Delaware’s most popular murder trial. Those two attorneys are Joe Hurley and Eugene Maurer, Jr. – Delaware’s kings of criminal law.

The first voir dire (jury selection) that I observed was that of Joe Hurley. Amazingly, I still have my notes. Many of my thoughts are validated by the conversation between Hurley and Maurer. I remember thinking Hurley was a bit dismissive to his peers, but incredibly sharp with the judge and jury. He was great at commanding the room and phrasing things in plain language, a skill known to many as, “dumbing it down”. All the while maintaining a wry, clever, and edgy kind of humor, keeping it interesting.

Hurley’s client was accused of resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. His client was a fairly large intimidating man, but Hurley did not shy away from the facts. Instead, Hurley used his client’s size and demeanor to his advantage. Like a skilled Aikido fighter, he motivated your mind’s initial impression, connecting it with assumptions the police must have made at the time in question. To use force first or risk danger. The tactic took a strong defendant and made him appear vulnerable to the jury. He was now the victim, but not in a corny charitable case sort of way, but an unfortunate victim of circumstance. Needless to say, at the closing of the case Hurley obtained a positive verdict from the jury for his client.

While I was not so fortunate, to sit in on one of Maurer’s cases, I did have the opportunity to review a large number of his motions and briefs to the court. His style was revered. Extremely confident but not cocky.

Reading the conversation between the two, one can identify numerous similarities: Impeccable Work Ethic, Confidence, Self-Awareness, and Respect. All excellent traits. But, even Delaware’s top criminal minds made mistakes in their career. In fact, Hurley’s history shows that a large number of plans may not work, but with hard work and dedication one may become successful. While the independent causes for the success of the two men may be argued, one thing is for certain, their work ethic is superior to all and second to none. They both possess extreme confidence in their ability, along with a strong sense of respect and self-awareness. Mr. Hurley may come off as arrogant but it appears that he is quite aware of tactics and Maurer’s confidence, while a bit more polished, remains glaring.

I question whether this interview would have been possible early on in their careers? Its no coincidence that they were able to converse candidly, often complimenting and insulting each other in the same breath. The awareness of themselves and their opponent developed over time. Lessons reinforced through experience and crossing paths paved the way for an intimate but humorous conversation. The result is priceless and I am thankful to Delaware Today for featuring such a great article. I only hope that one day I to can take part in a similar conversation with one of my peers…

See the interview by Delaware Today here (begins in the middle of article).